Remembering Our Roots
The City of Urbandale, located in the northwest corner of the Des Moines Metropolitan Area, was incorporated in 1917. From July 2016 to July 2017 Urbandale is celebrating its Centennial! At the time of the incorporation, there was considerable farmland between the developed areas of Des Moines and Urbandale, even though the two cities shared a common boundary. A monastery and a dairy farm were located where Merle Hay Mall now stands.
Urbandale was originally a streetcar suburb, in the era before automobiles became commonplace. A streetcar ran west out of downtown Des Moines on Urbandale Avenue, which was then only a streetcar track with a turnaround at 70th and Roseland originally known as “Walker Station” and later became known as the “Urbandale Station”. The streetcar allowed “country living” while commuting to work in the “city” by streetcar. Trolley buses gradually replaced the streetcars and the “Urbandale Line” was one of the last to run, ceasing operation on June 19, 1950. The Olmsted/Urban House located at 4010 70th Street; a residence located at 7205 Douglas; and the Flynn Mansion on what is now Living History Farms are the three oldest remaining homes in Urbandale, dating to 1903 in the case of the Olmsted/Urban house and 1871 and 1870 respectively for the other two.
Coal mining played a minor early role in the City’s history, with four small shaft mines in operation at depths of 180 to 360 feet. Three of the mines closed in the 1930’s, with the Beck Mine being the last to close in 1947. The Des Moines Ice and Fuel Mine operated where the Karen Acres Elementary School now stands. Apartments and an office building quietly reside where the Urbandale Coal Mine formerly operated at 78th and Hickman. The Rider Coal Mine near 104th and Aurora has been replaced by businesses and town homes, and the former Beck Coal Mine site on Merle Hay now serves up fast-food restaurant and automobiles.
The first Town Election was held on May 3, 1917. Otto Laverrenz became Urbandale’s first Mayor and the first Councilmen were C. C. Olmsted, E. F. Botsford, Mark Stuart, G. W. Mead, and J. C. Witmer. The City operated under the mayor/council form of government until 1965, when it was changed to the council/manager form of government.
The first Census in Urbandale, in 1920, counted 298 persons. The population grew slowly but steadily to 1,777 persons by 1950. Then 1956 marked the advent of the Karen Acres residential development, and Urbandale’s entry into the Nationwide suburban boom which increased Urbandale’s population to 5,821 by 1960. Urbandale has been one of Iowa’s fastest growing cities ever since, reaching a population of 39,463 persons in the 2010 Census. Urbandale is projected to reach a population of about 46,000 by 2020, and an “ultimate” population of about 75,000 persons within the present City Limits with a potential for additional annexations and growth. The City averages about 250 new homes each year, and 330 or more in peak years.
The Urbandale Sanitary Sewer District and the Urbandale Windsor Heights Sanitary District provide service throughout Urbandale, with sewage treatment provided by the Metropolitan treatment plant.
Most residential growth is located to the west of the Interstate, in Dallas County. As population projections indicate, Urbandale has substantial opportunities for continued growth. Urbandale has attracted strong commercial and industrial expansion for the last 30 years, in response to high disposable incomes and an aggressive stance by the City in attracting clean, quality development of this type. Commercial/industrial expansion averaged 516,360 square feet per year from 1990 to 1999, and 377,500 square feet per year from 2000 to 2010 when growth shifted from “high cube warehouses” towards higher “flex building” valuations. With recent and planned access improvements to Interstates 35/80, continued economic development is guaranteed.
The City has an excellent park and open space system which was prompted by the Comprehensive Plan and by the Parks and Open Space Plan. Federal funds were used to acquire some park property, but much of the public parks and open spaces were obtained through dedications required by the Parkland Ordinance for new developments. The City has an extensive trail system that continues to be expanded as development continues. Urbandale currently has 900 acres of parkland, and 44 miles of trails within the City that also connect to regional trail systems. Trails encircle the City, along with shorter loops through individual neighborhoods to provide a wealth of opportunities for walking, jogging, bicycling, and rollerblading.
All of the City’s streets are paved, except for outlying “county” roads in the developing northwesterly areas, that have “temporary” paving until traffic volumes increase to the point of warranting permanent improvements. The City’s Capital Improvements Program (CIP) lists proposed improvements to City streets and other facilities. The City now has an area of 22.71 square miles in Polk and Dallas Counties.
As the City has grown, so have its building facilities. The earliest City offices were located at 3816 70th Street, where City Hall and a Fire Station shared a small building. City Hall moved to 3315 70th Street in 1961, in a building that also housed the Police Department, Public Works, and Public Library. Urbandale began to acquire the property for the current Municipal Complex in 1974, on the southwest corner of 86th and Douglas which at the time was near the City’s geographic center. The current Police Station was the first facility to open at the new site in 1982, after its bond issue passed in 1980 by a margin of only eight votes. The Water Department was completed in 1986, and the Parks Maintenance facility was completed in 1990. The Urbandale Public Library and the Community Development/Engineering wing of City Hall joined the growing complex in 2001, and the completion of City Hall in 2004 essentially completed the Municipal Complex, with occasional expansions since to meet the needs of continuing growth.